Wednesday 29th January 2020


FluFlu facts & what they mean to you

Flu (shortening for influenza) is a mild type of infectious disease which generally lasts 4-5 days (although complete recovery can take up to 10 days) and usually does not have any serious effects. The only rare cases when flu can be dangerous are not due to flu itself but to its complications, i.e. diseases that may exceptionally accompany flu such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

Most flu cases occur in the winter months from November to March.

The best course of action, as in all illnesses, is flu prevention. Infections like flu are more likely to strike when you are physically low, and causes of physical debilitation include stress, lack of sleep, bad nutrition. Since it is impossible to avoid exposure to flu viruses, it's important to strengthen the body's natural defences by eating healthily, with lots of fruit (especially citrus fruits) and vegetables. If your immune system is strong enough, even if you are exposed to the virus you will not develop flu.

Washing hands regularly may also help, especially if you are in constant contact with people with a cold or flu, because soap can inactivate the virus. It does not have to be anti-bacterial soap; any soap will do. Don't become too worried or obsessional about touching objects or hand-washing, because that in itself could be unhealthy, albeit in a psychological sense.

Flu and cold have many things in common. They are both infectious diseases caused by viruses, and as such they are both impervious to antibiotics, which act only on bacterial infections. Flu and cold are caught in similar ways, through contagion from an infected person, for example if s/he sneezes or coughs next to you, or alternatively by handshake or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes.

But the viruses causing them are different. Cold viruses are over 100, whereas flu viruses are only of three types: that's why there are no cold vaccines but there is a flu vaccine.

Some flu and cold symptoms are similar, but flu is worse than common colds. While with a cold a high temperature is more rare, influenza is accompanied by a fever, which generally decreases within 48 hours. Other flu symptoms can include headache, shivering, cough, body aches, sleepiness. Flu can lead to serious complications in vulnerable people, for example the elderly and individuals with some long-term medical conditions such as heart disease, bronchitis, diabetes, asthma, kidney disease, emphysema.

Stay in bed and try to sleep. Drink plenty of liquids, except alcoholic drinks. Don't smoke.

The popular saying 'Feed a cold and starve a fever' is actually wrong, because with a flu you need nourishment to strengthen your body's defences and fight the infection. Foods high in vitamin C, like oranges and other citrus fruits, red peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and strawberries, and foods rich in zinc, like whole grain cereals, are the most recommended. Even if you have lost your appetite, which often happens with influenza, you should try to eat.

Almost all cases of flu get better on their own, without the need to see a doctor. Call a doctor only if symptoms persist beyond their natural duration (approximately two weeks for coughs, 48 hours for a high temperature, a week for a sore throat), otherwise, provided you don't belong to the groups at risk listed above, have a rest and let nature take its course.


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Photo accompanying the article Sleepy by dprevite made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).